Democrats in the Georgia House unveiled a sweeping civil rights bill on Thursday that would protect LGBT people and others from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.
House Bill 488 from Rep. Stacey Evans, a Smyrna Democrat, comes two weeks after a coalition of Democrats in the Senate introduced similar legislation. That measure, Senate Bill 199 from Sen. Lester Jackson, would bring the state in line with 45 others – and federal standards – that already ban discrimination based on race, gender, ancestry and religion. The bill would add protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, which are protections not included in federal law.
Co-sponsors of Evans' bill, all Democrats, include Reps. Karla Drenner and Sam Park – two of the four LGBT members of the House – along with Reps. Pedro Marin and Sandra Scott
"We have no comprehensive civil rights protections under state law and that is what this bill will seek to remedy. I am proud to stand here today in support of all Georgians," Evans said.
The full text of Evans' bill was not available late Thursday.
The legislation was introduced along with House Resolution 404, which calls for the creation of a committee of lawmakers to study civil rights legislation. The resolution came with bipartisan support from Rep. Wendell Willard, the powerful Republican leader of the House Judiciary Committee. Other co-sponsors include Park, Scott, Drenner and Marin.
"I'm proud to stand with Rep. Park and others of my colleagues [with] bipartisan support for a study committee to make sure that we have comprehensive civil rights protections for all Georgians," Evans said (top photo).
'The door is open'
Park (second photo) said it's critical for state lawmakers to pass the legislation.
"Because Georgia is one of only three states without comprehensive civil rights protections for individuals in employment, housing and public accommodations, it is critical that we take a balanced approach toward offering protections for all Georgians," Park said. "Otherwise the door is open for unintended consequences that could further stigmatize and discriminate against minority communities who do not have a voice at the table."
Park also commended senators for the civil rights legislation they introduced in early February.
"I am hopeful that these conversations will ultimately lead to a better Georgia where, once again, all of us regardless of our race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation are treated with the equal dignity and fairness that we all deserve under the law," Park said.
The legislation came two days after Sen. Marty Harbin introduced Senate Bill 233, a measure that revived the controversial "religious freedom" debate that has roiled the State Capitol for several years.
Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said the time is now for lawmakers to act on the LGBT-inclusive civil rights proposals.
"We know that now is the time to move forward as quickly as possible on comprehensive civil rights legislation," Graham said. "Not just because it's the right thing to do, not just because of the constant threat to our rights that legislation such as SB 233 represents, but because we know that the people of Georgia are fair minded and do believe that now is the time to protect all people against discrimination."
Graham pointed to the results of a poll for Project Rights Side Foundation that found nearly 75 percent of Georgia voters support a comprehensive non-discrimination law that protects LGBT people. The support cuts across political lines:
- 88 percent of Democrats support a statewide nondiscrimination law
- 73 percent of independents support a statewide nondiscrimination law
- 63 percent of Republicans support a statewide nondiscrimination law
"When you have three-quarters of the state that believes in something, three-quarters of the state that feels it is time to enact something, that's when the legislature should begin to move," Graham said.
Graham unveiled the survey results during a press conference hosted by Faith in Public Life on Thursday at the State Capitol to denounce the "religious freedom" legislation. The event included Park, Evans, Graham, ACLU of Georgia Executive Director Andrea Young and several faith leaders.
"Now is the time to talk about a civil rights law and now is the time to solidly reject efforts to roll us back," Graham said.
Regina Willis contributed to this story.